Australia welcoming back French ambassador after sub spat

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australian government ministers welcomed France’s decision to return its ambassador to Australia and said Thursday they hoped the two nations could repair the damage from a cancelled submarine contract.

“We welcome back the French Ambassador to Canberra, and hopefully we can move beyond our recent disappointments,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, deputy leader of the ruling conservative Liberal Party, told Nine Network TV.

France recalled its ambassadors from Washington and Canberra last month after Australia cancelled a 90 billion Australian dollar ($66 billion) contract with majority French state-owned Naval Group to build 12 conventional diesel-electric submarines.

Under an alliance that includes Britain, Australia will instead acquire a fleet of eight nuclear-powered submarines built with U.S. technology.

France quickly returned its ambassador to the United States, a NATO partner.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told a parliamentary committee: “I have now asked our ambassador to return to Canberra with two missions: to help redefine the terms of our relationship with Australia in the future, and to defend our interests in the concrete implementation of the Australian decision to end the program for future submarines.”

It is not yet clear how much the termination of the contract signed in 2016 will cost Australia.

Australia had already spent AU$2.4 billion ($1.8 billion) on the project, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.

Frydenberg said Australia and France shared a number of common interests, “particularly in our work together in the region.”

“So let’s hope we can get that relationship back on track,” Frydenberg said.

France and its European Union partners have reacted with hostility toward Australia over its shock decision to ditch the French deal.

Morrison said on Tuesday that French President Emmanuel Macron wouldn’t take his calls.

Trade Minister Dan Tehan has been snubbed by French officials while in Paris this week.

Negotiations on a free trade deal between Australia and the European Union that were to take place this month have been postponed until November. Bernd Lange, a German lawmaker and chairman of the European Parliament’s Committee on International Trade, said questions have been raised about whether Australia can be trusted.

Agriculture Minister David Littleproud saw the ambassador’s return as a positive sign.

“We’re understanding the disappointment they have, but at some juncture we’re going to have to move forward, and we believe that an EU free trade agreement would be a good juncture, “ Littleproud said.

“After the disappointment, they understand we need to move on and continue to work together,” he added.

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